Public speaking. It’s the one thing Americans fear more than death and just the thought of having to get on stage inspires anxiety-fueled questions like:

  • What if the audience doesn’t like my speech?
  • What do I do if I get on stage and my mind completely blanks because I’m so nervous?
  • What if I look super awkward on stage?

Most fears about public speaking stem from our fear of being judged.

People are so scared of being criticized that they forget they have the power to control how others perceive them.

If you know how to captivate an audience, being judged doesn’t matter because you’re going to make a positive impression.

In this article, I’m going to teach you research-backed strategies so you have the confidence to get on stage knowing that you have the skills to be an engaging public speaker.

best public speaking strategies

Master the Psychology of Verbal Power

As important as mastering your nonverbal communication is for making a great impression, using charismatic language is critical to be able to effectively communicate your ideas.

You may think charisma comes from being a natural-born leader with an engaging personality, but according to Harvard business professor John Antonakis, charisma can be learned and mastered through practice.

In his research, he discovered that there are 12 key charismatic leadership tactics that the most effective leaders use. When executives use these tactics, leadership ratings have been shown to rise a whopping 60% by observers.

I’m going to summarize 3 of the top tactics so you can start becoming more charismatic today.

Metaphors, Similes, and Analogies

If you like to play with words, using metaphors, similes, and analogies in your speeches is a great way to boost your charisma. By drawing comparisons between your points and ideas that your audience is already familiar with, it makes it easier for them to visualize and understand your message.

3 Part Lists

Whenever you’re public speaking, you have to keep in mind your audience’s capacity for remembering information. Breaking down your message and actionable takeaways into three parts makes it easy for people to understand, remember and act on your goals.

Setting High Goals

One of the simplest and most powerful ways to raise your audience’s energy level when you’re public speaking is to set high goals. When you passionately describe what you want to achieve, it engages people by triggering their own drive for accomplishment.

Action Step: Implement Antonakis’s charismatic leadership tactics into your speeches so you can become a more effective public speaker.

Want to learn more about the science of charisma? Check out John Antonakis’s Ted talk.

Become an Inspirational Public Speaker

Now that you know some of the best verbal strategies to become a better public speaker, the question becomes how do you go from being a merely influential speaker to an inspirational one?

The answer lies in one simple, but extremely universal, speech theory.

CEO and professional presentation designer Nancy Duarte spent years studying rhetorical strategies to uncover what makes some speeches powerful while other fail to captivate audiences.

What she discovered is that all great speakers from Martin Luther King Jr. to Steve Jobs all follow the same structure. It looks like this:

best public speaking strategies, nancy duarte

Here’s what the diagram is showing:

  1. Start by explaining “what is”- this is what’s the problem, the process, the level of achievement, etc. that you want to change.
  2. Then explain “what could be” which is your goal for a better future.

The lines in between “What is” and “What could be” represent explanations of what needs to happen to achieve your goal.

For example, if I’m speaking about body language, I might start by talking about the miscommunication issues that people struggle with and then explain how learning body language allows you to communicate more effectively.  I’ll repeat this throughout my speech by noting specific things that people struggle with followed by body language strategies that solve each of those problems.

When you’ve explained all of your points, end your speech by creating a clear vision of what the audience can expect if they follow your advice, invest in your company, implement your plan–whatever you tried to persuade them to do.

Watch Nancy Duarte’s Ted talk to learn more about her speech theory and what you can do to become inspirational.

Master Your Nonverbal Behavior

One of the most fascinating things about public speaking is that our nonverbal behavior communicates more than the words we say.

When we studied hundreds of hours of TED talks, we were shocked to find that speakers got the same ratings whether viewers watched the talks on mute or with sound. Even more surprising was that people could accurately predict in the first seven seconds whether or not the talk is successful. Crazy, right?

Bonus: Check out my TEDx London Talk where I explain some of the research:

Our research shows that public speaking strategies like hand gestures, smiling and vocal variety are essential for captivating audiences.

Check out my video to learn more about our findings:

Now that you understand the importance of nonverbal, I’m going to dig deeper into three of the most important strategies.

1) Hand Gestures

Hand gestures are awesome for several reasons. They:

  • Can be used to emphasize your points
  • Engage the audience
  • Convey emotions like excitement and disappointment
  • And much more

Watch Jamie Oliver’s Ted talk to see what I’m talking about:

Notice how much he uses his hands in his talk. When he makes points that upset him, he moves his hands in a downward motion to show his frustration. When he notes statistics he uses his hands to illustrate the size of the problem. When he addresses the audience, he gestures toward them, etc.

All of his hand movements keep the audience focused on him and give them a better understanding of what matters to him.

Action Step: Practice using hand gestures to emphasize your key points.

2) Vocal Power

Vocal power is when your voice has the loudness and strength to make audiences not only hear you, but listen. You can think of it as the difference in voice between someone who is quiet compared to an experienced public speaker.

Listen to Brene Brown to hear vocal power in action:

In her talk, she has strong vocal power because she allows her passion to fill her voice. Not only does that command audience’s attention, it also creates vocal variation that makes her more interesting to listen to.

Action Step: Allow your passion to increase your vocal power when you speak. If you’re still struggling with this, check out this article from eHow to learn how to increase your vocal power.

3) Smiling

This is the easiest nonverbal strategy to implement and if you enjoy what you speak about, it often comes naturally.

Here are some reasons why you should smile more when public speaking:

  • It triggers the reward center of your brain which boosts your mood and confidence
  • It reduces stress
  • People naturally mimic facial expressions so when you smile, your audience is likely to as well

A lot of people are afraid that smiling will make them look weak or unprofessional. Watch Ken Robinson’s TED Talk to see how smiling can be used as a public speaking strategy.

When he smiles, it’s often in response to examples that the audience can relate to. By smiling at strategic times, he makes himself more personable and memorable.

Action Step: Practice smiling at strategic times in your speeches.


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